Talk of heading to the Trail on Thursday started a few days early, as the forecast was for more record high temperatures, a very welcome thing in March. Early predictions had me leery that the wind would be too strong, but in the morning it looked much more promising. Nobody seemed to be pulling the trigger on going, though, so I went ahead and made other plans for the day. Then text messages came in that a bunch of pilots were heading out there, so I scrambled to revise my schedule, and rendezvoused with Tom L, Pete J, and John B for the drive out. Brooks E, Keith B, and Timo F were already there when we pulled in, and PK was close behind — we connected with him to leave a car in the bailout LZ.
It was around the customary hour of 2 PM when Brooks stepped forward to taste the air, and he had plenty of wire assistance, all eager to find out if it was soarable. He wisely took his time to wait for the wind to be just right, and it paid off, with him gaining enough altitude in short order that everybody else hurried to get in line. Keith and I wired everybody off, then Keith gave me a hand and took the last slot himself.
When it was my turn, I had to fiddle around for close to 10 minutes negotiating with a thermal in front of the towers before I got the 500 feet I wanted in order to head south. By that time a lot of the other guys were circling a few thousand feet up, well east of the Wigwam. I kept going to try my luck near the bare rock areas on top of the ridge. As my flight went on, I became aware of something strange: my glider was doing something distinctly unfamiliar and weird. When I was thermaling, it wasn’t so bad, though I was maybe having a little trouble staying in the lift, which I wrote off as simply being rusty. In between climbs, though, I was having a real downer of an experience. At first I just thought that it was crushing sink, but there was more to it than that. The glider seemed like it would occasionally, without warning, have an increase in trim speed of maybe 10 mph. In other words, it would go into a dive, and the control bar would move back by my waist all by itself, and I had to pull it forward to get the speed back down to something reasonable. I craned my neck around to make sure that I didn’t have something screwed up with my reflex bridles, or anything else that might be obvious, but nothing seemed amiss. I had a camera on the keel, but that didn’t seem like it would cause the kind of effect I was feeling (and I had put a camera there on other gliders with no issues). It wasn’t something that I couldn’t control, but it wasn’t doing much for the efficiency of my flying, either. I tried adding some VG to see if that made it go away, and the results were inconclusive. I decided to continue flying rather than head immediately for the LZ. Climbs were pretty good; I got up to a hair under 5000 feet, and most everybody else got at least several hundred feet beyond that.
The only spooky bit was when I followed a climb back a way behind the ridge with Tom. The wind up high was stronger, and when I pushed back out toward the front, I got creamed. Full VG, and I was concerned that I might not make it past the ridge before running out of altitude. A couple of other pilots were also watching me with interest, wondering if I was going to make it or not. I tend to leave myself adequate margin in cases like this, and I actually had 500 feet to spare when I went over the top of the ridge.
As the lift weakened, most of us headed for the “Amy’s Field” LZ, except for Tom and John; Tom had a glider issue that was making left-hand turns difficult, so he opted for a larger field. The one that he picked was about 1400 yards long, which I guess was long enough for his purposes. John landed in the same place to keep him company, and the elderly farmer who owns the field was delighted to see them and they had a nice chat. Keith got the persistence award for the day: after helping me launch, he self-launched and sank out to the bailout. He then immediately called a taxi, hastily bundled up his glider and left it in the LZ, and rode the cab back up to launch. Then he grabbed his other glider from the roof of his truck, set up, self-launched again, and got up to soar on the second try.
PK and Keith
So what was up with my glider? I figured that it must be some kind of assembly issue, and as soon as I started breaking it down, I saw what the problem was: my nose cone was missing! I specifically remembered having put it on, then undoing the lower velcro so that I could unzip the lower surface to check the stuff inside the wing during my preflight. I did not remember patting the lower velcro back into place, and I figured that with it loose like that, it must have come off somewhere during my flight. Without the nose cone, air can be forced in through the nose, which inflates the wing and distorts the airfoil, making it behave wrong. I’ve been told that some gliders (some rigids in particular) can become unflyable if this happens. So, my attempt to be really thorough in my preflight backfired, to an extent. No more having the nose cone on halfway for me, ever. I have two DS gliders, and both of them have nose cones that are loose, rather than being on a leash. Seems like the safest thing would be to add leashes to both of them so that if the nose cone isn’t installed, it will be dangling right in front of my face where I can’t miss it. I was prepared to call up the dealer when I got home to order a replacement, but during the car retrieve, Keith took a stroll out to launch to check, and found my nose cone in the setup area, so it apparently came off before I even launched.
flights: 1, airtime: 2:05, XC distance: 5.5 km